Tougaloo’s Two Rivers Gala honors Mississippi icons

May 26, 2016 in Education, News

By Ayesha K. Mustafaa

Contributing Writer

Tougaloo Two Rivers Gala 2016 honorees and presenters were (from left) Leroy Walker, Tougaloo trustee; Benjamin E. Wright, James Barksdale, Reena Evers-Everette, who accepted the award on behalf of her mother Myrlie Evers Williams; Aunjanue Ellis, Roderick “Rod” Paige, Clarence Weatherspoon and Tougaloo President Beverly W. Hogan. PHOTOS BY JAY JOHNSON

Tougaloo Two Rivers Gala 2016 honorees and presenters were (from left) Leroy Walker, Tougaloo trustee; Benjamin E. Wright, James Barksdale, Reena Evers-Everette, who accepted the award on behalf of her mother Myrlie Evers Williams; Aunjanue Ellis, Roderick “Rod” Paige, Clarence Weatherspoon and Tougaloo President Beverly W. Hogan. PHOTOS BY JAY JOHNSON

Since 2010, Tougaloo College has hosted the Two Rivers Gala/Honors. The Native American word “Tougaloo” means “two rivers.” The college description notes Tougaloo as the place where two streams run parallel – education and activism.

The Two Rivers Gala is the college’s premier annual event that affords the opportunity to “honor visionaries, progressives and courageous individuals who have made significant, extraordinary contributions to society,” according to the program announcement.

This year’s gala held May 21, at the Jackson Convention Complex also featured the college’s historic role as a leader of change and reaffirmed its commitment to “educate for democracy.” It also served as a precursor for the 2017 opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Honorees celebrated at the gala were chosen by Tougaloo because of their contributions as Mississippi icons in the areas of education, social activism, entrepreneurship, creative genius, journalism and sports.

Describing the 2016 honorees, the program noted: “… these individuals have shone a bright light on our state and generated national acclaim and positive press. In today’s world of growing divisiveness along racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and economic lines, … these individuals will give rise to hope and stir our own humanity … to build a better world.”

Tougaloo President Beverly W. Hogan and Tougaloo Trustee LeRoy G. Walker Jr. presented the awards to this year’s honorees:

• Roderick “Rod” Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education for education

• James L. Barksdale, business executive and former CEO of Netscape for entrepreneurship

• Myrlie Evers Williams, Civil Rights activist and journalist for social activism (award accepted by her daughter Reena Evers-Everette)

• Aunjanue Ellis, American film, stage and TV actress for creative genius

• Benjamin F. Wright, renowned composer and arranger for creative genius

• Clarence Weatherspoon for sports

While most of the honorees stayed with the program request to limit remarks, one stood out in connecting her aspirations and inspirations to Tougaloo and to Mississippi.

Actress Aunjanue Ellis, who is an actress but also recognized as a social activist, upon accepting her award said, “My life as I know it today began at Tougaloo College. I would not be at this illustrious occasion if I had not had the Tougaloo experience.

“Thank you Tougaloo College, on whose shoulders I stand. Though I did not graduate from Tougaloo, I consider myself a partner for life in its goals. Think of me in that way.”

Although she was born in San Francisco, Ellis claims Alcorn, Miss., as her hometown where she was raised by her grandmother. She first found herself on stage as a student at Tougaloo College. She transferred to Brown University, a sister college to Tougaloo, where she received her bachelor’s degree in acting and American studies. She studied acting at the Graduate Acting Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

After a brief intermission, the dinner guests were treated to a concert by Grammy Award winning artist Jeffrey Osborne.

Reena Evers-Everette and Tougaloo President Beverly W. Hogan

Reena Evers-Everette and Tougaloo President Beverly W. Hogan

Grammy Award winning artist Jeffrey Osborne performed during the gala.

Grammy Award winning artist Jeffrey Osborne performed during the gala.